Concertmaster has heart of grunge

January 18, 1995|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Contributing Writer

The concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hangs out at blues clubs and envies grunge rockers.

"That's the problem with playing in an orchestra: You can't jump up and down like the bass player in Nirvana," he said, and then jumped up and down like the bass player in Nirvana.

Don't expect this kind of performance Saturday, when the Candlelight Concert Series will present Herbert Greenberg and pianist Marion Hahn at Howard Community College.

Although the West Columbian would like to thrash about on stage a bit, he'll maintain his composure.

He'll even give a brief lecture about the Brahms pieces he's going to play and his job in the orchestra.

"I'm not the guy that waves his arms around, that's the conductor," he said. "I'm the first violinist of the orchestra, the first to follow his directions."

Mr. Greenberg, 45, first picked up a violin at age 6.

"You just take to it," he said.

"The violin is a way to express one's soul. As a kid, you don't know that. You just enjoy the sound. But then you become seduced by it, seduced by its mood. It's a singing instrument, an emotional experience."

Mr. Greenberg said he is afraid that experience may be lost on children today.

"The arts aren't important in public schools anymore. There's no money for orchestras," he said.

He looks nervously out the window of his sparse office at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, as if he's being watched.

"I'm a liberal," he said quickly. "I know that's a dirty word, but I'm very concerned about the changes in our administration. If Jesse Helms gets his way and does away with the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts], you might as well give everybody spears and knives.

"These days, art is expendable," he said.

Again he looks out the office window, toward Centre Street.

"I had a student playing Bach in here once. She was playing it right, but there was nothing to it," he said. He pointed to the rowhouses outside.

"I told her to look at those houses there, the windows are the same baroque style as Bach's."

When the student played the piece again, looking at the windows, "she got it right, she got the feeling," he said.

There is more to music than playing, he said. That's why he's so fond of the Peabody Conservatory.

The halls sing at the Peabody. Someone walking through can hear music coming from behind each door. Piano and violin and voices overlap each other, like an orchestra warming up.

"This is as a music school should be," Mr. Greenberg said. "The paint is chipped, there's cobwebs everywhere, everything is dated. You can feel the spirit here.

"There are ghosts in this building."

There probably are some ghosts in his violin, too, a 1685 Stradivarius.

"There is no violin as beautiful, with such a singing melody, as a Stradivarius," he said.

Although it's regarded as the greatest violin in the world, no one is sure how Stradivarius did it.

"Everyone has a theory. People say it's the chemicals in the varnish, the age of the wood; they've tried to duplicate the situation, but nobody really knows.

"It's just as if you were making wines, a lot of it would depend on the vineyard," he said.

The Candlelight Concert group offers 13 performances from September through April. Saturday's concert will begin at 8 p.m., preceded by Mr. Greenberg's lecture at 6:30 p.m. "Our goal is to present the finest live performances available to us here in Howard County," said Bonita J. Bush, executive director of the series.

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